Lucya Spencer, a pioneer in providing services to immigrant women and children, passed away after a brief illness on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Ms. Spencer, the former executive director and co-founder of the Immigrant Women Services Ottawa (IWSO), was an outstanding leader who during her career consistently advanced issues that impacted the lives of immigrant women and children. She worked tirelessly to empower them and focused on the elimination of all forms of violence against women, including in the wider context of settlement and integration issues.

Born in Antigua, Ms. Spencer came to Canada and settled in Ottawa where she quickly became involved with the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization. In 1988, she co-founded Immigrant Women Services Ottawa, and in 1993, became its Executive Director, a position she held until she retired last year.

Her contribution to the Ottawa community was invaluable and she served on several boards. Notably, she served as the President of LASI/World Skills, President of the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, President of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants and the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada. She was also a valued board member of Crime Prevention Ottawa, Past Chair of the Selection Committee of the Ontario Government’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism, and Guest Editorial Board – Canadian Women Studies. 

A dedicated worker, she received many awards during her lifetime, including the Governor General Canadian Study Conference Appreciation Award (1995), the United Way Community Builder Award (2008), the OCASI Award of Excellence for outstanding leadership (2008), the Black Women’s Civic Engagement Award for professional and social activism that helped build stronger communities across Canada (2011), the Femmy Award, and the Citizenship and Immigration Canada recognition award for long-standing service to the Settlement and Integration Community (2013).

Her colleagues at the IWSO said her generosity knew no bounds and touched many lives.

“Lucya was more than a boss, she was a mentor, a motivator and a formidable leader who always found time to discuss issues with me as they arose,” said Mercy Lawluvi, Executive Director of the IWSO.

“She was a great advocate for the most vulnerable within our community and her legacy will live on. She was a remarkable woman who conducted herself with such dignity and poise. What a privilege to have worked with her,” added Ms. Lawluvi.

Zahide Yilbas, Manager, IWSO Language Services, said Ms. Spencer helped many women who were in need. “She brought hope to those who were distressed, smiles to those who were safe and comfort to those who were lonely. Her kindness will always be remembered and appreciated.”

At an event that focused on immigrant women and their stories, Ms. Spencer shared this sentiment with the audience.

“While I recognize that perfection is an elusive dream, I have always gone beyond the call of duty to fulfill any task. I have agreed to undertake and the result have spoken for themselves. Some of my efforts have been recognized by others through testimonials, awards or just the common words ‘thank you’ or ‘God bless you’ – words I treasure deeply as they cannot be equated with a monetary value.”

In 2014, the Honourable Senator Mobina Jaffer praised Ms. Spencer’s work in the Senate.

“Lucya Spencer truly understands the challenges of the most vulnerable. She has been a bridge for immigrant women, allowing them to reach their full potential. I have no doubt that many women in Canada would not be where they are today if it wasn’t for the great work of Lucya Spencer. It has been my great pleasure to work with Lucya for the past 30 years.”